Tim Matheson has been cast as President Ronald Reagan and Cynthia Nixon as First Lady Nancy Reagan in the adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Reagan, for National Geographic Channel. And, in a Hitchockian move, O’Reilly will have a small role in the project, which he declined to name except to say it was “a pretty fun role.”
“We wanted to get somebody in both roles who, No. 1 had a lot of experience, because these aren’t easy roles. They aren’t caricature roles. Matheson and Nixon are accomplished, and they’ve played a lot of roles, but they’re also not strongly identified with any one role,” O’Reilly told Deadline. Some actors considered to play Ronald Reagan, “were closely identified” with previous roles, which is not the case here, the Fox News Channel primetime star said.
Matheson previously played Vice President John Hoynes in Aaron Sorkin’s NBC political drama The West Wing. Nixon, of course, is best known for her role as Miranda Hobbs in HBO’s long-running Sex and the City TV and movie franchise.
(In other casting, Dexter alum Geoff Pierson will portray James Baker, Regan’s senior advisor on the campaign trail and eventual Chief of Staff.)
National Geographic Channel said last September it was continuing its successful partnership with Scott Free Productions to produce and premiere this adaptation of the latest book in the “Killing” series from O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Their Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing Jesus are the most-watched programs in NatGeo Channel history (Kennedy and Jesus also were Emmy nominated in 2014 and 2015, respectively).
Rod Lurie (The Contender, Commander in Chief) is directing the script by Eric Simonon. Shooting in Atlanta, the project is scheduled to air in late October, so as to debut right before the presidential election, in which another “outsider,” Donald Trump, is the presumptive GOP nominee. (Unlike actor-turned-SAG-president-turned-California-governor Reagan, however, Trump never has held elected office before running for the White House.) Killing Reagan scheduled to premiere on National Geographic Channel in the U.S. and in 171 countries in 45 languages, including Nat Geo Mundo.
Killing Reagan is a slight departure in the book franchise, in that the 1981 attempt on Reagan’s life was unsuccessful. The book explores the assassination attempt by John Hinckley on the newly elected president, and how it impacted Reagan’s time in office.
Tackling biopics about the Reagans has proven to be fraught with peril.
More than a decade ago, CBS wound up not airing its much ballyhooed Reagan miniseries after the project raised eyebrows in various quarters for various elements, including the casting of Barbara Streisand’s husband James Brolin as Ronald Reagan (Judy Davis played Nancy Reagan). Portions of the script that were deemed unflattering to the First Couple in some quarters.
More recently, this past April the hue and cry went up when reports surfaced that Will Ferrell, who played George W. Bush on Saturday Night Live and on Broadway, might be playing Ronald Reagan on the big screen in an adaptation of The Black List Reagan script from Mike Rosolio. The 40th President’s son Michael Reagan and daughter Patti Davis both expressed outrage over the project. Announced in December in the 11th edition of the most-liked unproduced screenplays, Rosolio’s Reagan is set at the end of 1984 when Reagan had just been re-elected in a landslide. In the script, he is suffering from dementia, and an intern, who’s hoping to move up, is tasked with trying to convince the former SAG leader he is in a movie in which he is playing the President.
Michael Reagan tweeted, “#Alzheimers is not a comedy to the 5 million people who are suffering with the decease,it first robs you of your mind and then it kills you”
Some of these same concerns may come up with the Nat Geo project, having already been raised in some reviews of the book. USA Today called it a “misfire” in that it “deals more with Reagan’s gradual descent into dementia, the result of his fight with Alzheimer’s disease” and asserts Reagan exhibited signs of the illness during his presidency. The book also delves into Reagan’s “extramarital affairs in Hollywood, indifferent parenting, disputes with his second wife Nancy, and the multiple instances in which Reagan appeared to be not quite there,” the book says.
For Scott Free, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker and Mary Lisio are exec producers of the National Geographic Channel adaptation, and Clayton Krueger is co-EP. O’Reilly also is EP on the project. For national Geo Channels, Carolyn G. Bernsteain is EP. Matheson is repped by Gersh and Generate; Pierson by Stone Manners Salners Agency.